Microsoft found itself at the center of a number of intellectual-property battles throughout 2010, as lawsuit fever seemed to grip the tech industry as a whole. Despite the intercompany partnerships seemingly signed on a weekly basis, the rapid pace of innovation in markets such as smartphones, and the resulting billions in potential profits, led any number of corporations to open fire on each other like so many 17th century ships of the line.
By the final months of 2010, Microsoft found itself locked in a game of intellectual-property suit and countersuit with Motorola, which was also being sued by Apple, which in turn was fighting battles with HTC and Nokia over the rights to certain mobile technologies.
But Microsoft's most prominent case of 2010 might turn out to be the continuing intellectual-property battle with Canadian firm i4i, which sued the software giant for allegedly infringing on its patents for custom XML. An in-depth breakdown by eWEEK of i4i's patent can be found here.
In August 2009, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas ordered all copies of Word 2003 and 2007 to be removed from retail channels within 90 days. Microsoft's attorneys argued for a delay, but, four months later, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, ordering that all offending copies of Word be yanked from stores by early January 2010.
Microsoft then asked for a review by all 11 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on top of issuing a patch for Word that it insisted would sidestep the alleged infringement. In May, however, the company's position was undermined somewhat when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of i4i's patent, something that Microsoft spokesperson Kevin Kutz termed "disappointing."
Microsoft then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal. That request was granted, with Microsoft v. i4i Limited Partnership 10-290 due to be heard in early 2011.
What's at stake with the case? Aside from a lot of money-i4i originally won a nearly $300 million judgment-any Supreme Court decision has a tendency to find itself used as a precedent in future cases; in that context, Microsoft's entanglement with a little Canadian firm could have wide-ranging repercussions for future intellectual-property suits.